Cuban Innovators Use Sunlight to Model Sustainable Spaces — Global Issue

Félix Morffi, an 84-year-old retiree, demonstrates a homemade solar heater and solar panels installed on the roof of his house in the municipality of Regla in Havana. The hope is that his home will soon become a trial site for the use of renewable energy and students will learn about the subject in situ. CREDIT: Jorge Luis Baos/IPS
  • by Luis Brizuela (Havana)
  • Delivery Press Service

With two tanks, glass, aluminum sheet and cinderblock, sand and cement, in 2006, the 84-year-old retiree created a solar heater that caters to his household needs, which he proudly showcases.

“You build it today and tomorrow you have hot water; anyone can do it, and if they have a little advice, everything will be better,” says a retired mid-level machine and tool repair technician.

A magnet treats water magnetically through a system that purifies it and makes it fit for human consumption, at no additional energy cost.

Also on the roof of the house, a group of 16 photovoltaic panels imported in 2019 provide five kilowatts (kWp) of power and support the work of a small automotive workshop where he works on vehicles for state-owned companies and individuals.

It is an independent company that Morffi does on part of his estate in Regla, one of the 15 municipalities that make up Havana.

In addition to meeting his family’s household needs, he provides his excess electricity to the national grid, the National Electric Power System (SEN).

As part of the contract with Unión Eléctrica de Cuba under the Ministry of Energy and Mines, for surplus energy “we receive an average of more than 2,000 pesos a month (about $83 at the official rate), more or less the amount we pay for our consumption over the same period. ,” Morffi told IPS in an interview at his home.

But he said the rate of 12.5 cents per kilowatt of energy sent to the NES may have to be increased if the government wants more people to produce solar energy.

Since 2014, Cuba has had a Policy for the Development of Renewable Energy Sources and Their Efficient Use, and in 2019, Decree Law 345 established regulations to increase the share of renewable energy in power generation and continue to reduce the proportion represented by fossil fuels.

Other regulations have been added, such as those that exempt foreign companies implementing sustainable power projects from paying taxes on profits for eight years.

Another decision seeks to promote self-sufficiency through decentralized generation by selling excess energy to NES, as well as exemption from tariffs for importing photovoltaic systems, their parts and components for non-commercial purposes.

Huge solar potential

According to research, Cuba receives an average of more than five kilowatts of solar radiation per square meter per day per day, which is considered a high level. There is great potential in an archipelago of more than 110,800 square kilometers with an average of 330 sunny days per year.

By the end of 2021, about $500 million was invested to expand the share in the energy mix from solar, wind, biomass and hydroelectric power sources, according to data from the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

The solar energy program seems to be the most advanced and with the best opportunities for growth.

Solar parks operating in the country account for 238 megawatts, more than 75 percent of locally produced renewable energy.

In addition, more than 160,000 of the country’s 3.9 million homes, mostly in remote mountainous areas, receive electricity from solar modules, statistics show.

But clean sources account for nearly five percent of the island’s power generation, a view the authorities are keen to radically change, setting an ambitious goal of 37 percent by 2030.

It is a matter of national security to substantially change the energy mix in Cuba, which relies heavily on imports of fossil fuels and is beset by cyclical energy shortages.

The island is in the grip of an energy crisis with blackouts of up to 12 hours or more in some areas, due to a network breakdown of 20 thermoelectric generating blocks with an average operating life of 30 years and requiring frequent repairs.

In addition, rising international diesel and fuel prices, as well as shortages of spare parts to keep engines and generators powered by these fuels running in Cuba’s 168 municipalities.

Step on the brakes

Government authorities point to the US embargo as a factor holding back renewable energy growth, blaming it for discouraging potential investors and hindering purchases of modern components and technology.

On the other hand, inflation, partial dollarization of the economy and acute shortages of basic necessities, including food, leave most families with little choice to switch to clean energy production independently, even if they are aware of its positive impact on the environment.

One state-owned company authorized to market and assemble a 1.0 kWp solar panel system equates to about $2,300 in a country where the median monthly salary is estimated at $160, although it is possible to apply for a bank loan for installation. .

People who spoke to IPS also mentioned the difficulty of storing solar energy for use at night, during power outages or on cloudy or rainy days, given the extremely high cost of batteries.

Morffi said more training was needed among personnel involved in some of the processes, and he cited a delay of more than a year between signing the contract with Union Eléctrica and the start of payment for the surplus energy donated to the NES, as well as “inconsistencies with respect to assembly” of equipment.

Despite a national policy on renewable energy sources, “there is still a lot of ignorance and very little desire to do something, and do it well. Awareness-raising is needed,” he argued.

Combining renewable energy

Morffi believes that regardless of economic conditions, with a little ingenuity one can take advantage of the elements of nature, because “the sun shines on everyone; the air is there and costs nothing, but your wealth is in your brain.”

He shows a dryer that uses the sun’s heat to dry fruits, spices and tubers, which he assembles mostly with recycled products such as scrap wood, nylon, acrylic and aluminum sheet.

Other equipment will require significant investment, such as three small wind turbines of 0.5 kWp each that he will import and a new batch of 4.0 kWp photovoltaic solar panels, for which he will have to apply for a bank loan.

Behind his house, a small solar panel keeps water flowing from the well for his poultry barn and a man-made pond that holds a variety of ornamental fish and tilapia for the family to eat.

Construction of a small biodigester, measuring about four cubic meters, is also at an advanced stage on its land, which aims to use methane gas from the decomposition of animal waste, for cooking.

According to Morffi, who managed this activity with the support of several family members, his house is in the process of becoming a trial site for the use of renewable energy.

A special class can be built there, so students can learn about the subject on the spot.

So far in the design phase and in discussions with potential proponents, the local development project could even install “solar heating in places in the community such as doctor’s offices, day centers and cafeterias for the elderly,” Morffi said.

He said the idea should have the support of international donors, the municipal government of Regla, and Cubasolar, a non-governmental association dedicated to promoting renewable sources and respecting the environment, of which Morffi has been a member since 2004.

“We are willing to advise anyone who wants to install solar panels, heaters or dryers, anything related to renewable energy. We have the knowledge and experience and have something to contribute,” he said.

© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service